On December 10, the Inuvik Ski Club wrote an open letter to its community.
“Our club would like to recognize the difficulties we are currently experiencing in our operations…” the letter began, followed by a list of issues familiar to any small, volunteer-run organization.
There were not enough skilled volunteers, participants, revenue streams, or coach development opportunities. The club was struggling with theft, vandalism, and equipment and trail maintenance.
The three volunteers that were left declared themselves overwhelmed and chose to suspend all services so they could examine the club’s problems, consult the community, and prepare to make changes in the new year.
Holly Jones, one of the only volunteers remaining, told Cabin Radio why the club decided to write the letter and what comes next.
“In the letter we just discussed our interest in sort of changing directions – taking a bit of time away so that we can really focus on making a club that’s more responsive to what the community would like,” she explained.
“And also something that’s more sustainable for volunteers in the long run.”
Over the past two months, Jones and her fellow volunteers believe they have identified the club’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
The club has received 14 responses to the questionnaire on its website so far, which, “for a small town sport, that’s reasonable,” she said.
And the club has reached out to community leaders it wants to consult: the Town, the Gwich’in, and the Inuvialuit.
The town’s mayor, Natasha Kulikowski, said when the club published its letter back in December, the Town of Inuvik reached out to let the club know it was supported.
“The Town’s role right now is advocacy,” Kulikowski said, saying she’s met with Jones to help connect her with people in town who might be able to help.
“The ski club in its current state is kind of sad right now, but it’s an important legacy group that needs to remain in town.”
Kulikowski said they have the infrastructure – over eight kilometres of trails – but they are missing the volunteers.
“We have so much volunteer-driven activity that sometimes volunteers get burnt out,” she explained.
Neither the Gwich’in Tribal Council nor the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation responded to requests for comment.
“I’m taking a lot of inspiration from the efforts of other clubs,” Jones said, referring to community consultation.
At beginning of the year, Jones talked to Gary Bailie about how the Kwanlin Dün First Nation runs the Kwanlin Koyotes Ski Club in Whitehorse.
The Kwanlin Koyotes is run as an on-the-land program rather than “just targeted at athletic performance and podiums,” she said.
Jones is hoping to connect with the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to explore how the ski club could have a place within existing wellness activities.
Jones said one thing that struck her was the amount of support the club has received from outside of Inuvik.
“The national sport organization for cross country skiing is also in the midst of quite a big change in terms of its direction and it’s looking to support smaller clubs better,” she said.
The organization is pivoting to provide more services to recreational skiers and not just to high-performing skiers.
“So that really made me quite happy to see that we’re being supported both locally, and also people nationally are taking notice.”
As consultations begin to wrap up, the club is thinking about starting a board membership drive.
“We’d like to have some committed board members come on and help us with an immediate crisis management plan … just getting us through this season,” said Jones, noting the club’s contact information is on the Inuvik Ski Club’s website for anyone that wants to submit feedback or volunteer.
Next, the club wants to work on longer-term visioning: what the club’s future looks like and how it will remain sustainable.
“I would just love to have conversations and see if we can do planning meetings and get some things rolling,” she said.
“I think as Sharon Firth has mentioned a couple times, this is such an amazing region for skiing.
“And I really hope that we can uphold the legacy that she and her sister and fellow TEST [Territorial Experimental Ski Training] skiers have started, which is a lot of fantastic youth years coming out of this region.”